Can a nonprofit arts center reflect the trials, tribulations, and promise of the city it serves?
Loyal readers of IP know the answer to this question. (It's in the affirmative, by the way.)
A perfect example comes to us today from Buffalo, where the arts organization Squeaky Wheel recently received a $100,000 grant from the Warhol Foundation. But before we assume the role of sociologist and try to draw parallels between the organization and its home city, let's first look at the details of the grant.
The grant, which represents slightly less than half of Squeaky Wheel's annual budget of $250,000, will be used solely for exhibitions. For followers of the Warhol Foundation, this, of course, makes perfect sense. Its primary mission is to promote the visual arts.
And while some arts organizations occasionally find grants with strings attached to be limiting, Squeaky Wheel, quite naturally, isn't complaining. By paying for the organization's future exhibition needs, which include an interactive city tour powered by rentable iPads and more shows than in 2014, the money will allow Squeaky Wheel to tackle other pressing issues like its residency program and expenses associated with its move to a new location.
In total, the grant enables Squeaky Wheel — and we're quoting Executive Director Jax Deluca here — to transition from a "scarcity model" toward a more "sustainable base."
For those who skipped Economics 101 in favor of French Existentialism in college, the scarcity model argues that if the whole pie has a limited size, it's in everyone's best interest to seize the largest slice possible, regardless of the consequences.
It's not the best way to run an arts nonprofit. Or anything for that matter.
Squeaky Wheel's transition toward sustainability resembles the positive developments that are, at long last, rippling through the Buffalo Niagara region. The Buffalo Billions initiative, a project near and dear to heart of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, aims to revitalize the region by investing in facilities and programs that help local businesses to become more competitive and act as a magnet to lure firms to the region.
Nonprofits like Squeaky Wheel no doubt have a role to play in this transformation. For example, Deluca wants to use freed-up funds to bring out-of-town artists to Buffalo and help turn the city into an arts destination. Speaking for Squeaky Wheel, he also echoes the sentiments reverberating throughout the region: "I finally feel like things are stabilizing in a really nice way."